We face urgent challenges: Sickness and death from the coronavirus, millions of jobs lost to the pandemic, and racial injustice — a “pre-existing condition” that amplifies the effects of the coronavirus for many. Even as we face these critical problems, we can’t afford to lose focus on climate change. Because of climate impacts the world is already experiencing, this is the last decade in which we have a meaningful chance to turn around the forces that threaten our very existence. The need for urgent action calls for us to be heroic. It is our time to be the next “Great Generation.”
We all have visions of how we want our world to look and dreams for the future of our families and community — visions that can sustain us through the changes we need to make. As a farmer and retired hospice nurse, I envision a future without noise, smells and pollution from burning fossil fuels. Clear air, birds able to hear themselves sing, night skies bright with stars. Hundreds of thousands of lives saved from lung disease and cancer, and children free from asthma playing outside. Cities green with trees and vegetation. Clean waterways. Oceans restored to health and productivity. Farms producing more nutritious food as soil health returns and communities supporting local farmers.
The choices we make today will determine the fate of our dreams. We have seen communities come together during the stressful months of the pandemic, helping and protecting one another. Just as we learned that we need one another more than ever during stay-at-home orders, we will not be able to succeed alone, as we confront the climate crisis. Even amid a pandemic, we can work together for the benefit of our children and grandchildren.
I’ve been disheartened to see atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations increase beyond levels known for a million years, even while air and water pollution decreased when we stayed home. I’ve been disheartened to watch the federal government roll back regulations that protect our air and water, preserve endangered species and migratory birds, and establish environmental standards, many in place since Richard Nixon was president 50 years ago.
But nobody said that confronting the great issue of our time was going to be easy or that we wouldn’t have setbacks. A Great Generation looks at the oncoming disaster and finds the courage to act. It fights against great odds, accepting losses, owning its grief, staying focused on its dream of the future.
How do we step up to fulfill our potential as a great generation? We can each take action now that will build a better world. While it’s true that fossil fuels built our current civilization, we know we must now phase them out before they destroy us. Clean energy and transportation, greater building efficiency, and sustainable agriculture and forestry are within our reach. We know how to achieve them; clean technology and responsible practices already exist. However, citizens must demand them. We are a powerful force for changing corporate choices. Importantly, we must support Congress in enacting a carbon fee that provides incentives for businesses to reduce the pollution they release into our common skies.
The climate disasters predicted by scientists fifty years ago are here now, in the form of drought, flooding, torrential rains and hurricanes, decreased soil fertility, and diseases spreading beyond their former boundaries. We can pretend that none of these changes is urgent, or worse, that disaster is inevitable — or we can build resiliency and mitigate the worst effects of the changing climate. We can still choose a path that feeds body and soul and cares for our earthly home.
That’s why I think that this is an exciting time to be alive. How many generations have been able to change the course of history? Our parents and grandparents, against great odds, drove back the threat of totalitarianism in World War II. Now the stakes are even higher and the odds at least as great. Once again, humanity has the chance to show our mettle. What could be more heroic than working through daunting challenges to secure a beautiful and sustainable future for ourselves and generations yet to come?
Cramer, who farms with her husband in southern Snyder County, is president of Seven Mountains Audubon and co-leader of Susquehanna Valley Citizens Climate Lobby.